The University Record, April 22, 1998

Provost's Column

Provost Nancy Cantor

With this brief note, I am pleased to inaugurate a monthly column for faculty and staff. In the future, I expect to use this space to address questions and comments about University matters from the Record's readers. I urge all of you to send your questions and comments to In this first article I want to summarize some of my views on the Provost's role in the University and provide some reflections on what I have learned in my first seven months on the job.

We often remark that the University of Michigan is highly decentralized. For all of its apparent banality by virtue of repetition, the implications of the remark are anything but banal--our decentralized structure of budgeting and governance provides great strength to the University's many parts, and it also means that the central administration must play an active role in pulling the parts together.

Fundamentally, the central administration must support the academic interests and commitments of faculty and students. I see three general forms of commitments:

The work most likely to be found on one's desk--to the methods and materials that are at the center of one's disciplines.

The work that involves collaborations with others.

The activities in which one may participate only indirectly, as they are distributed across the campus and constitute the public life of the University.

The first of these are the essential focus of schools, colleges and departments. The Provost's role here is to assure that the schools and colleges are well supported and able to deploy their resources flexibly and intelligently; for the most part, we should stay out of the way. But the second and third domains of commitment require some more direct central support and leadership. Here it is our job to make it easy for students, faculty and researchers to move across disciplinary and administrative boundaries. It also is our job to assure that the general environment of the University provides the intellectual and aesthetic richness that nurtures us all.

Diversity is an essential part of that general environment. In countless ways we profit and are informed by the differences among us--differences in what we study, in how we think, in where we have come from and the lives that we have lead.

While I have defined the Provost's primary functions in terms of the interests of faculty and students, one of the most important things I have learned in my brief period in the central administration is the centrality of nonacademic staff to pursuing our academic missions. This University is fortunate indeed to be served by thousands of people whose hard work, understanding and love of the institution make possible everything that we do.

One of the nice things (perhaps the nicest) about being Provost is that the job is interesting; fascinating people and ideas fly by (all too fast) every day. I look forward to using this column to share with you both my interests and yours.

Provost Nancy Cantor

Information on the Provost's budget process presented to Senate Assembly last fall may be found on the Web at http://www.umich/edu/~newsinfo/U_Record/Issues97/Nov19_97/speech .htm. The full text of the budget document is at